The corruption case against New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez has become a battleground over the controversial Supreme Court decision that allowed the flood of campaign money that is reshaping elections. In legal filings and a recent ruling, defense attorneys, prosecutors, and a district court judge have jousted over the limits of the 2010 Citizens United ruling, which opened the door to unlimited donations to independent political groups, such as super PACs and campaign-minded nonprofits. The Menendez case is the first since the decision to use super-PAC donations as the basis for corruption charges against a lawmaker. It has touched a raw nerve in the debate over the influence of independent expenditures, said Kenneth Gross, a lawyer specializing in campaign finance.
A district court judge on Monday dismissed four corruption charges against Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and his donor Salomon Melgen, but denied motions to toss out other charges including, notably, the senator’s solicitation of contributions for a super PAC. Lawyers for the senator had asked the court to dismiss charges related to the $700,000 in contributions from Melgen to Senate Majority PAC, a super PAC run by former aides to Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that made independent expenditures to support Menendez’s 2012 reelection, which prosecutors allege were made in exchange for official acts. The basis for dismissal offered by Menendez’s lawyers were the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United and 2013 McCutcheon decisions. Those two cases redefined corruption as only explicit bribery, excluding influence and access. The senator’s lawyers argued that this redefinition of corruption and Citizens United’s declaration that independent expenditures “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption” provided freedom of speech protections for all “efforts to influence and obtain access to elected officials,” including any campaign contribution.
Two developments caught the attention of the political fund-raising world last week. First is the eye-popping amount of presidential campaign money Senator Ted Cruz’s supporters reported raising in just a week — $31 million in big checks from affluent conservatives. This bonanza offers further evidence that the 2016 election has already become a runaway race of “super PACs” allowed to raise unlimited funds from uber-rich donors out to reap political influence.
National: Menendez indictment marks first big corruption case involving a super PAC | The Washington Post
The federal bribery case against Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey marks the first time large-scale super PAC donations have figured prominently as evidence of a political corruption scheme, renewing questions about how truly independently such groups operate. The 22-count indictment against Menendez and wealthy Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen hinges in part on $600,000 that Melgen gave to the Senate Majority PAC — a Democratic super PAC — earmarked to support the senator’s 2012 reelection. Senate Majority PAC officials have not been accused of any wrongdoing. But the Justice Department argued in the court filing that the donations were among the things of value Melgen offered Menendez so the senator would use his position to help get the donor’s girlfriends visas to enter the country and to influence government officials to help Melgen’s businesses.